By Carolyn Lee
The Imperial Republican
It seems to be the consensus of a number of area hunters that the pheasant hunting isn’t as good this year as it has been in the past. The season opened Oct. 26, with mixed results for several hunters interviewed.
Pat McNair was one of nine in his group. “There were substantially less pheasants than in the past on opening day. We limited out (three per hunter) the past few years on opening day.” McNair’s group didn’t get their limit this year.
“We checked with a lot of farm clients who were picking corn in different areas (of the county), and all of them were saying the population was substantially down.”
Mike Liewer said his group on opening day started out at 10 hunters and ended with 15 hunters. “We didn’t limit out. That was the first time in four years. Opening day was tougher than normal but we finally found some.”
Liewer said he’s been out hunting several times since Oct. 26, and has had fairly good luck finding pheasants. “We’re hitting some places where the corn wasn’t picked before.”
Liewer attributes the lower pheasant population to three environmental factors; hail in the summer, snowstorms last May, and the drought last year. “We went from moisture, cold, to nothing,” he noted, adding that pheasant chicks mainly eat little bugs, and there weren’t any due to the weather.
McNair surmised that lack of a limit on opening day this year was because there was more cover for pheasants. Last year “corn harvest was more advanced on opening day last year because of the drought,” so early that there was less cover for pheasants.
T.J. Walker, a wildlife biologist with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in North Platte, said the pheasant population is still suffering from the 2012 drought.
“April through October, the drought was the worst possible thing to happen to the pheasant population. There were absolutely no insects around,” and that’s 90 percent of a chick’s diet.
Walker said pheasants, grouse and other game birds need broadleaf plants and plenty of bugs to survive. “We got spoiled the last few years, which has made the past two years pretty disappointing.”
“Going into 2013 there was a very low population. We had a fair reproduction year with what (pheasants) we had left,” he noted.
“I also think the behavior of the birds has changed due to hunting pressure.” Walker said pheasants in Hitchcock County with transmitters on them are now running out of fields instead of waiting to be flushed.
In addition, the mild temperatures lately are not as easy on hunting dogs as colder days, he said.
“I still think hunters will have a pretty good season later,” Walker said. He noted that in Hitchcock County last year the ratio was one bird per one hunter per day, whereas this year it’s just over one bird per one hunter per day. In the past it has been over two birds per one hunter per day.
Walker said “We feel all the components” for a successful pheasant growth is still there. That includes a lot of CRP land, wheat stubble next to growing winter wheat, and “odd pockets,” or small areas too rough to farm.
“I hope we have good rainfall and vegetation next year,” the biologist said, “another year like this year.”